Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Bottom Line vs. Those That Line the Bottom

A wall hanging at St. Timothy's soup kitchen
At a recent commencement speech to the 2012 graduates of Loyola University, Father Gregory Boyle (see my post on Father G's ministry) said:

"Loyola has not prepared you for the real world. It has asked you to challenge it, to be less concerned with the bottom line and more concerned with those that line the bottom."

For the last week, “issues” at work have had me irritated and stressed out. Lately, practicing endocrinology has been relatively straightforward; being an employer . . . not so much.

Today was different. We closed the office after lunch and hosted today’s meal at the Friends in the Desert Foundation [1] in downtown Henderson. Everyone chipped in to chop celery & carrot sticks, make pasta salad, bag up cheese doodles & dill pickles and grill 120 hamburgers and hot dogs.  For dessert we made Rice-Crispy treats and no-bake cookies.  We loaded everything up at 4:15 PM and headed to St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, which hosts the meal.  We started pouring milk at 4:55 PM and then fired up an assembly line. By 5:25 PM we had served about 100 meals, cleaned the kitchen and were pulling out of the parking lot.

Assembly Line @ T - 5 minutes
What we did today was not difficult, nor was it complicated. Pretty much anyone could do it. But it was a very different Wednesday afternoon from the normal routine for us. Normally our team works ten-hour days taking care of complex medical problems, which really can’t be treated in a regular medical office. [2] The staff is very adept at checking to make sure all the details are correct before the patients are seen. This includes verification of eligibility and benefits, prior authorizations, compiling lab results, updating addresses, payment of copays and outstanding balances, etc. 

Today's clients were mostly homeless and living in the desert; at best they were severely under employed. They have virtually nothing.  Many had mental illness or poor health (I spotted at least one diabetic foot). Without exception, they were down on their luck. They were certainly not the beautiful people. Yet nobody was turned away.  They were all welcomed with open arms and on their own terms.  Without doubt, this is what makes St. Timothy's such a special place. I am certain that when 'the King' goes out for dinner in Las Vegas, he prefers a back table in the fellowship hall at St. Timothy's.

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Matthew 25:40

This project felt bigger and more important than might seem logical, considering what we normally do at work each day.  Today, we were certainly out of our element, but we made a difference in a small way that meant so much to these people. We must not forget that 'by small and simple things are great things brought to pass' (Alma 37:6). As I was reflecting on the small things of this day, I realized that my annoyance coefficient has dropped by an order of magnitude. Miraculous! Perhaps it was because we were worrying less about the bottom line and more about those that line the bottom. 

[1] Since 1998, it has been serving hot meals for around 100 homeless and disadvantaged members of our community daily at precisely 5:00 PM.  In a year, that translates into over 20,000 hot meals and around 4500 sack lunches.  It is 100%-operated by volunteers from multiple congregations, organizations and businesses in the community.  The goal is “to serve ‘the least of these our brothers’ with a dignity that they otherwise don’t see.” Contact them to help make a difference. 
[2] For example, yesterday a patient’s husband insisted on seeing Kevin immediately and in private; he had no appointment and didn't want medical care (Kevin said he thought the guy was going to shoot him or something).  In reality guy wanted to thank him for saving his wife’s life, and insisted on hugging him instead of a handshake.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Spirit of Diotrephes & Preeminence

A sinuous dragon disgorging a leafy, flowering stalk, itstail terminating in another leafy vine, forms this letter "S" on the titlepage of the Third Epistle of St. John the Apostle.

Preeminence is one of those superlatives to which we can only hope to aspire.  A word with universally positive connotations: distinction, excellence, prominence, renown, superiority, supremacy, transcendence. If someone or something is preeminent ina group, they are more important, powerful, or capable than other people orthings in the group.

The word preeminence occurs only twice in the KJV of the New Testament. In Colossians 1:18, Paul uses the word proteuo [G4409- translated as preeminence in KJV, means to be first or foremost] to describe Jesus Christ.[1]  If ever one can be called preeminent, it is the Savior.  The word preeminence also appears in John's third epistle as he publicly castigates a shadowy person named Diotrephes: 3 John 1:9.  In this case preeminence stems from philoproteuo [G5383], which literally means love of being first (philo = love; proteuo = being first). 

I find brief scriptural references to otherwise unknown people fascinating (see my posts on Demas here and here). We know almost nothing about Diotrephes, since his name only appears in this passage.  For me, the ESV translation of this  passage gives clearer insight into who Diotrephes was and what he was like. 

I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 
10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. 
3 John 1:9-10 (ESV)

 Somewhat ironically, his name means 'nourished by Jove'; if you were a superstitious Roman you might think this could lead to preeminence.[2]  But it was not legitimate preeminence that led John to publicly call out Diotrephes. It was Diotrephes' desire to put himself first that brought out John's ire.[3] This desire crippled his ability to acknowledge the authority of one of the Twelve. It suggests he was unwilling to defer to the priesthood leadership of the church. He was certainly prone to backbiting and trash-talking about the the church leaders. Finally, it seems that he was bent on driving out those people that he didn't like. 

Unfortunately, the Spirit of Diotrephes is alive and well; it is manifest in those that cannot (or will not) submit to the authority of God's earthly (albeit imperfect) representatives.  It is heard in the hypercritical appraisals of (admittedly imperfect) women and men that are serving in the church.  It is seen in the attempt to create a church that is so homogenous that there simply is not room for those that don't fit the mold.  

In a word, the character flaws of Diotrephes can be summarized as pride. It is the sin of putting our will, needs, agenda and self-love ahead of God. Ezra Taft Benson called it the universal sin: it's not just the other guy's problem.  

Diotrephes joins a long list of saints that have become defined for their failings.  Whether he got it together or continued to buck the system, we'll have to wait and see.  It seems pretty clear that individually we need to get it together--the sooner the better--and root out the Spirit of Diotrephes from our lives.

[1] In Romans 3:1,Paul uses a related word to describe the lack of preeminence [G4053- perissos] of the Law of Moses, compared to the Law of Christ.
[2] Jovewas the supreme god of the Romans. 
[3]  Itypically associate John 'the beloved' with some of the greatest writings inscripture on love.  But in his third epistle, he was very annoyed and itcomes through loud and clear.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Stripling Armies

My recent visit to the American invasion beaches of Normandy was unbelievably moving.  I'd recently finished Stephen Ambrose's best-seller D-Day to try and be ready for the experience. Despite almost 600 pages of minute by minute detail about the invasion, I wasn't remotely prepared. Our guide was simply fantastic and I can't imagine trying to do this without someone like him (Eric Le Deux-Turnbull) to put it into perspective (more on this another day).

A haunting picture of SS-Panzergrenadiers Sepp Bund, Klaus Schuh and G√ľnther Hamel of Regiment 25  (12 SS-Panzerdivision “Hitlerjugend”) on June 12, 1944 in the orchard of the Abbaye d'Ardenne near Caen, Normandy. They had just been awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class for destruction of  a British tank using only their MG42 on June 9, 1944. Only Hamel survived the War. (Sources: i & ii).

While in France, I was also doing some reading the closing chapters of Alma in anticipation of my Sunday School lesson on Helaman's Army. This morning at 4:00 AM (still on French time . . . ) I was struck with the contrasts between two stripling armies.

In June 1943, Adolf Hitler exulted with the formation of the 12th SS-Panzer Division Hilterjugende. By the fall of 1943, training of 16,000 recruits from the Hitler Youth movement was complete. Many of the recruits were so young that they were issued sweets rather than tobacco and alcohol as part of their regular rations. These striplings had grown up in the propaganda programs of Nazi Germany and were fanatically committed to the cause. From their mother's knees they were taught to trust their Fuhrer, and were prepared to die for the Fatherland. The division had been equipped with the finest weaponry that Nazi Germany had to offer and had been extensively trained with innovative techniques. The Hitlerjugende was led by officers and NCO's that had proven themselves on the eastern front; it enjoyed a camaraderie and morale that was unusually strong.  Hitler moved 12th SS-Panzer Division Hilterjugende to Caen, Normandy in March 1944 to help defend the European continent from the coming Allied Invasion.

In June of 1944, the 12th SS-Panzer Division Hilterjugende played a critical role in the Battle of Normandy.  They faced the Canadians and British after they landed on the beaches at Juno and Gold and then moved inland to take the rail and road hubs at Caen. Hitler's stripling division offered up fanatical resistance and a fight to the death mentality.  They were without doubt the most effective German fighting force in France.  Unfortunately, their war crimes against unarmed British and Canadian POWs is well-documented as well.  Good soldiers are not always good people.

On the other hand was Helaman's army of two thousand and sixty young men. Their Ammonite parents were willing to sacrifice their lives instead of spilling the blood of their enemies; the sons made a seemingly polar opposite covenant to take up arms and sacrifice their lives in the defense of their country.

And they were all young men, and they were exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all—they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted.              Alma 53:20

Now they had never fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.        Alma 56:47-48

And as the remainder of our army were about to give way before the Lamanites, behold, those two thousand and sixty were firm and undaunted. Yea, and they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them; and I did remember the words which they said unto me that their mothers had taught them.      Alma 57:20-21 

Both armies were very young and, on the surface, hardly intimidating as a fighting force.  Yet both armies were committed, firm and fearless; they meted out death and destruction to their enemies with incredible effectiveness. Both had been taught to trust their leader and to obey with exactness and without hesitation.

The ultimate difference was who they chose to follow.  The stripling Hilterjugende followed Adolf Hitler, one of the most evil men the world has ever known.  They were committed to the principles of Nazism, which called for the conquest of it's neighbors and the utter destruction of Jew, Poles, Russians and others deemed racially inferior. By the end of July 1944, their ranks were decimated and numbered just over 2000. In contrast, the stripling Ammonites selected Helaman, the prophet of God, to be their General. They were committed to God and the principles of liberty for all men. They held firm not for several weeks, but for many months and in a variety of trials and hardships that included hard-fought battles, isolation and near starvation. Because of "their exceeding faith in what they were taught to believe", not one soul was lost on the field of battle.

But behold, they have received many wounds; nevertheless they stand fast in that liberty wherewith God has made them free; and they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day; yea, they do observe to keep his statues, and his judgments, and his commandments continually; and their faith is strong in the prophecies concerning that which is to come.    Alma 58:40

We like to feel assured that we are not so vulnerable to be led astray as were the Germans under Hitler’s National Socialist German Worker’s Party. But Hitler, like so many of the forces that threaten our souls, was a master of misinformation, propaganda and praying on the weaknesses of others when they were most vulnerable. Furthermore, he was content to make his gains by degrees.   The only way we can be confident in our ability to stand as firm as Helaman’s army is to be uncompromising in our commitment to God and follow his commandments with exactness. This is the stuff that ‘exceeding faith’ is made of, and the stuff that makes you invincible to your foes, no matter the odds. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Parking Lot Encounters

Sometimes you run into the darnedest people in the parking lot! Tate took these pictures of the Big Guy's plates while he & Tiff were shopping at Fry's Electronics (I hesitate to call them vanity plates--He's not at all like that once you get to know Him) .

I'm sure I could wax eloquent about this picture for a long time. I was pleased to see He was in a domestic Minivan rather than a stretch Maybach limo. It is also noteworthy that these are Nevada plates (not Utah). I guess He's putting a little time into this part of the vineyard--I wish I knew which neighborhood He is living in. Hopefully His efforts will help Vegas lose the Sin City moniker and become the New Nineveh.

Undoubtedly this chance parking lot encounter would be less blogworthy if it were at the LV Temple or a Stake Center (or even Deseret Book).  But this was Fry's Electronics! He's mingling with regular people--not General Authorities or Temple Presidents. Wow . . . . it sobers you to think you could just as easily encounter Him at Target or Costco while loading up the cart with 3 or 4 cases of Diet Coke. It's not like He's stalking you . . . but He does knows where you've been and what your loading into the trunk.  It's just like Santa when you were a kid: stuff you've always known, but it still feels eery when you stop to think about it.

My heightened sense of parking lot paranoia not withstanding, Tate's encounter helps me to recognize that important people (especially those that haven't found the gospel yet) are watching us while we are not paying that much attention. Brennan Manning said: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” As we claim membership in Christ's restored church, our actions should easily betray that, and regularly offend Satan. Hopefully we have taken the advice of St Francis of Assisi and 'Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.' 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


For the Zoramites, the Rameuptom was all about indulging their pride. Yet everything was tidily packaged into something much more socially acceptable: worship. It is SO much easier to rationalize when couched in these terms. 

While teaching Sunday School recently, we spent a few minutes talking about the Rameumptom. Paul Riddle leaned over to Tate and indiscreetly pointed out that my Rameumptom was my new bike. It was pretty funny, and spot on. All I could say was Touche´.[1]

It's sobering to realize the degree to which we become experts in justifying the Rameumpti in our lives.  In this case, words like  fitness, performance, craftsmanship, passion all worked very well.[2] I guess there are some Zoramite tendencies (aka pride) in me that I need to still work on. Even more remarkable is my ability to instantly recognize the Rameumpti of others, even while perched atop one of my own that is so easily justifiable in my own mind. 

This is going to take some time . . . 

[1] In this case 3-4 times a week for at least and hour instead of a few moments on Sunday.
[2] I could go on at length about why I NEEDED the new French road bike with Italian components and tubular wheels.